NT 4.0 still flying high as RAF modernises apps fleet

The Royal Air Force has extended the life of its legacy Windows NT 4.0 network to gain further value from its systems. The move comes as it waits for the Ministry of Defence to finalise plans for its next generation of IT infrastructure.

The Royal Air Force has extended the life of its legacy Windows NT 4.0 network to gain further value from its systems. The move comes as it waits for the Ministry of Defence to finalise plans for its next generation of IT infrastructure.

The RAF has developed technology to adapt the NT 4.0 network, which Microsoft stopped supporting at the end of 2005, to enable its 22,000 users to access modern applications, including the RAF's Oracle HR system.

The network, which links 40 RAF bases across the UK, is due to be upgraded as part of the Ministry of Defence's long-term plan to connect the armed forces through the Defence Information Infrastructure (DII).

The RAF needed to keep its existing NT 4.0 network running and develop a cost-effective, efficient way to roll-out new applications while work goes ahead on the DII.

Mark Morrison, assistant project manager at the RAF, said, "It was not an option for us to upgrade the network, as we have to wait for the DII."

It would have been too expensive and labour-intensive to visit each base to install the new application, said Morrison. Instead, the RAF opted to build a centralised software deployment infrastructure on top of the NT 4.0 network.

Central software distribution proved difficult on the legacy system as it did not provide Active Directory, available in newer versions of Windows, which can be used by administration staff to detect desktops remotely.

Morrison's solution was to use Microsoft's Systems Management Server, modified to support NT 4.0. The RAF hired Computacenter Services to build a proof of concept software distribution system that worked on NT 4.0 in conjunction with Systems Management Server.

The team built a software distribution server hosted on Windows 2003. The server uses a tool called Netlogon to detect and target PCs on the RAF network. Computacenter Services also modified the NT 4.0 log-in script to ensure machines that were switched off could be identified when the user next logged in.

Bola Rotibi, senior analyst at Ovum, said, "The RAF has years of embedded knowledge in managing NT 4.0."

With such legacy systems, Rotibi said organisations generally developed excellent maintenance processes which enabled the system to be run cost-effectively and efficiently.

Along with the Oracle HR application, the RAF has also used the software distribution server to upgrade from Office 2000 to Office 2003. It is currently evaluating an upgrade to Adobe Acrobat 8.0 Reader.

The £4 billion over 10 years Defence Information Infrastructure which began in 2000 aims to provide a fully networked and managed service for the MOD. It covers the maintenance of existing networks, convergence strategy plus the capability to exchange and share electronic information across with the integration of systems.

Microsoft stopped support for Windows NT 4.0 at the end of 2005, athough user pressure has forced the supplier to offer premium support.

MoD awards £4bn contract to EDS

Comment on this article: computer.weekly@rbi.co.uk




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